Gaza journal

Staying in a Gaza hotel room without electricity brings back memories of another assignment - Baghdad in May 2003.


    I awoke to the ringing of my local phone. I came with three: my regular mobile, which rings up a Trump-sized bill here a temporary T-Mobile model, which is equally expensive but has the benefit of working abroad and a cheap, local not-smart phone I picked up in Gaza.

    Half asleep, I fumbled and watched it plunge to the floor.

    The ringing stopped, the buttons now useless. "Congratulations champ," I thought.

    "You've been awake three seconds and you've killed an inanimate object."

    I surveyed my surroundings. It was daylight, but the TV and air-conditioner I'd left humming were silent.

    My two US-based phones were out of range and, thanks to the power outage, out of hotel wifi.

    Baghdad memories

    I was reminded of the time in May 2003 when I spent two days trailing the most powerful man in Iraq, former US General Jay Garner, as he walked without a flak vest through Baghdad’s Shia Sadr City neighbourhood, trailed by Iraqis.

    Every one of them recognised him, though their TVs weren't working.

    They called out "Mr Garner, why no karraba?" (Why no electricity?) in Arabish, a mingling of Arabic and English.

    I was chafed when the Los Angeles Times, brimming with wartime news, made me fold two days of exclusive reporting into another reporter's story.

    So, I later learned, was Garner.

    It took me years to get another interview with him. By then he was lamenting the missed opportunities that followed his removal and the bull-in-a-China-shop style of his successor, Paul Bremer.

    Bremer fired the Iraqi army and banned Baathist Party members from government jobs, turning hundreds of thousands of militarily and politically savvy Iraqis into desperate, armed networked enemies.

    A little grouchy

    I used a fourth phone - the hard-wired hotel handset - to ask for breakfast.

    The accented voice on the other end said: "Cheese omelette."

    Here, you don't order breakfast. They tell you what you'll have.

    It's a nice hotel, as Gaza hostels go, but everyone's starving and a little grouchy.

    As it is Ramadan and the cook would have been fasting from dawn to dusk while frying up my morning meal, I didn't complain.

    I managed to connect long enough for a short call to the office.

    Nothing imminent. And no more connection.

    I could shower in the dark, but shaving blind seemed suicidal. I gave up on the idea.

    Men bearing nets

    So I was forced to take a haram breakfast out on the balcony and enjoy a moment of peace, watching fully clothed men wade in the Mediterranean surf.

    As they trudged ashore I realised they were bearing nets.

    They weren't swimming. They were fishing. Of course they were. This was Gaza.

    Resorts line the beach here. There are plastic chairs in the sand, their backs tilted together in fours to form arachnids. But no one sits in them.

    They're merely a reminder that, should someone choose to bathe in the baking humidity, they're welcome.

    The fasting Gazans will remain sensibly out of the sun, thank you, or, more productively, fishing.

    As persistent flies circled the remains of my breakfast, into the mesmerising din of ocean waves broke the harsh crackle of Arabic music from the TV.

    Maintenance had succeeded. The spell was broken. Back to work.



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